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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Francis Schaeffer -- "The Central Problem of Our Age"

By Rick Pearcey • February 14, 2009, 12:00 PM

If politics is "downstream from culture" (as former Capitol Hill staffer Bill Wichterman has observed) and culture in general is downstream from Christian culture in particular ("You are the salt of the earth," Matt. 5:13), these guys -- Rick Ianniello, Ray Ortlund, Mike of On Coffee -- may be on to something regarding the "central problem of our age."

They quote from Francis Schaeffer:

The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism [yes, Schaeffer was a Protestant!], nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us. All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them. [bold added] 

You can find this quote on page 66 of No Little People, a book of sermons that are absolute must-reading for any person who prefers not to have his life's work "eaten up" by the secularism of our age.

Not just the secularism in society at large, mind you, but also, very sadly, by the "real problem," by the secular "power of the flesh" we sometimes observe in the methods and mentality embraced in certain circles of big-time, hard-charging Christian ministry.

Nancy and I agree with Schaeffer and Scripture that this is not a secondary matter. Fortunately, we have been able to witness some of this first-hand, so that we might post a "warning label" to help protect others from going down splashy but spirit-eroding dead-ends. This is an issue we do well to focus on, simply as a matter of spiritual balance and humane vitality.

You may have seen and experienced something of this "in house" secularism yourself. In fact, it is very likely you have. If so, we know you are hurting. This is true no matter what the PR says, or what a politician might say while handing out an award or medal to the latest and greatest hero of the ga-ga crowd (ever-so-humbly accepted, of course). You can read all about it in next month's machine-cranked fundraising letter on a mission from God.

But running over people in an effort to "change the world for Christ" or "engage the culture" does not glorify God or evince love of neighbor. Quite the opposite. It's a practical expression of taking the Lord's name in vain.

In my view, what Schaeffer is helping to awaken us to (I know, it's hard to wake up at times) is central to the real crisis behind the crisis of our age. Moreover, it's an analysis that may help explain much that is retrograde, dehumanizing, undignified, and ineffective as a strategy of cultural engagement.

Look: We have had massive organizations at work for decades. Millions and millions of dollars. Years of blood and sweat and pounds of flesh. No one is saying we have nothing to show for this. And yet things seem to be getting worse on a weekly if not daily basis. Just turn on the TV. You begin to wonder if the current strategy is a cultural and spiritual loser.

Maybe Schaeffer was on to something. Maybe there's a reason the Lord had to get him out of this mess and over into Switzerland just so he could get his head together. Just maybe.

Secularism both cultural and religious is taking huge bites and chunks out of the freedom and dignity of humanity. As a way forward, as a way to begin crafting and living an authentic Biblical alternative, you might want to consider chapter 13 of Schaeffer's True Spirituality together with chapter 13 of Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth. These chapters make the central and humanizing case that the Lordship of Christ applies across the whole of life. Boards of big organizations might be shocked, but this Lordship applies even to the nuts and bolts and nitty gritty of ministries CEOed by really famous people whose big names sell lots of books authored or "co-authored" by other people.

Call me a romantic, but I think we can do better than ape the phonies of this world. It's a lot more fun and humane to be a real person doing real work. True enough -- Your hyped name may not be slapped on the covers of as many books, magazine articles, commentaries, radio broadcasts, Larry King's guest list, or White House appointment calendars. So what?!

As the Leader of this revolution pointedly says, those folks "have their reward" (Matt. 6). You can read about that too in No Little People.

Comments

Right on target, Rick. Everywhere I go I encounter great frustration and disappointment with the evangelical church, and in most of those cases I hear complaints about the obsession with methodology over and above all else. It's repentance time, for all of us.

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